Apostolic nuncio delivers annual Cardinal Bernardin lecture

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Then-Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, shares the sign of peace with Cardinal Cupich during Catholic Charities 100th Anniversary Mass at Holy Name Cathedral on May 7, 2017. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic )

Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, delivered the 2024 Cardinal Bernardin Lecture at Loyola University Chicago on April 11, titled “Pope Francis: Discernment and the Dialectic of Mercy.”

“I begin with the conviction that today there is a need for a mature and courageous reflection on the situation of man, of society and of the church,” Cardinal Pierre said.

Quoting several documents and addresses given by Pope Francis, the cardinal said the church needs to find the language to spread the Gospel in these changing times and be in a constant state of mission.

“The church cannot leave things as they are in the face of ongoing change in the world around us,” he said. “In a profound discourse to the Roman Curia in 2019, the pope emphasized that embracing change must become central to the church’s identity necessitating a genuine anthropological conversion.”

In this heavily secularized society, there is an urgent need for the church to find a language to share the Gospel, he said.

“Our primary concern should not be to buttress the truth of our faith adopting a defensive posture in the face of struggle,” Cardinal Pierre said. “On the contrary, the pope urges the church to muster the courage to engage with modernity. However, this necessitates a serious introspective analysis.”

Pope Francis describes this analysis as a conversion, he noted.

It is not just that society has changed but that the church has strayed from “a missionary posture,” he said.

“Christ’s message still holds the power to transform lives today, but it requires ministers who are confident in the one who sent them and willing to break free from ideological constraints,” the cardinal said. “I have witnessed ecclesial moments in which the church demonstrated the courage to confront reality head on and discern the path forward. One such moment was the gathering of the Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida.”

During that 2017 gathering, the bishops employed a “see-judge-act” method to discerning the sign of the times through a Christian perspective, he noted.

“Christ instructs us on how to interpret the signs of the times. He assists us in discerning the best course of action and equips us with the means to empower evangelization. We should therefore turn to Christ and reenter the school of the Gospel,” Cardinal Pierre said.

If Christians want to learn how to dialogue with the world today and how to evangelize they must sit at the feet of Christ like Mary, he said.

They can draw inspiration from the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well and how Jesus puts the individual person at the center of every interaction. It is personal encounters with Jesus that bring about conversion, he said.

“If the church struggles to evangelize today — if she cannot find the words to proclaim Christ — it is often because she has narrowed her focus to the occupation of spaces of authority. The institutional church must guard against rigidity, against becoming crystallized in forms that obscure the discernment necessary for effective pastoral action.”

The pope calls Catholics to go the peripheries not just for social justice reasons but because it is where we encounter Christ and learn the language of mercy, he said.

Cardinal Pierre also cautioned against ideologies in the church that, the pope says, separate the church from the Holy Spirit.

Quoting Pope Francis, Cardinal Pierre said the church must distinguish doctrine from ideology, as true doctrine is never ideology.

It is through the incarnation that the church can discern the language needed to spread the Gospel today.

“Without an incarnational perspective, it is almost impossible to discern the root of the malaise affecting contemporary men and women,” he said. “The traces of their existential tiredness in fact become rapidly, readily apparent to those who adopt a synodal approach, who listen without prejudice, who encounter people by coming to their level.”

Like Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, “similarly, today Christians are called to engage in dialogue with a society in which men and women experience profound disillusionment and find no solace in the promises offered by the idols of the world,” Cardinal Pierre said. “However, disillusionment and the lack of hope can also be discerned within the church.”

There are signs of vitality in the church in the United States, he said.

“However, it would not be helpful to simply assert that everything is well,” the cardinal said. “It is important to confront reality and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in the right direction. Many Christians are weary. There is stagnation in the work of evangelization and discouragement in the face of opposition. We should carefully attend to this phenomenon — the tiredness affecting, to a certain degree, both priests and lay faithful — to identify its roots.”

Now is a moment of “Kairos,” the cardinal said, that calls for “ecclesial renewal because it brings to light the root causes of the problem and affords discernment.” He continued, “It invites a reflection that will help the church to enter a new stage of maturity. Out of the experience of tiredness the church can recover a language that speaks to the weariness of the world.”


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